Do you remember how Labour’s London campaign collapsed into chaos and confusion in 1998?

No, I don’t either. Which leaves me puzzled.

Because, you see, Labour MP and campaign coordinator Andy Burham has said that his party would not be working much for a Yes vote in the AV referendum as,

It would be a recipe for chaos and confusion if Labour candidates were also supporting AV in their literature.

Odd then that it wasn’t a recipe for chaos and confusion in London in 1998 when there was a referendum on the same day as other elections. And I’m sure that the fact that the 1998 referendum was introduced by a Labour government whilst the 2011 one was not has nothing to do with his views. I mean, that would just be churlish, wouldn’t it?

So I guess the conclusion is that Andy Burnham’s saying he’s not as good as previous Labour campaign coordinators. After all, if they managed it without chaos and confusion, why can’t he?

It’s good though to see that not everyone in Labour is taking as implausible a line as Andy Burnham and in fact some pro-electoral reform campaigners are willing to campaign for a Yes vote. Step forward Will Straw on Left Foot Forward:

During the leadership campaign Ed Miliband … told Left Foot Forward, “I support AV for the House of Commons and will campaign for it.” Little wonder, when the system worked so well for him during his own leadership contest. Reversing this position now will look to political and constitutional reformers like rank opportunism…

There is no obvious reason why Labour can’t, in LBJ’s words, “walk and chew gum”. Why shouldn’t Labour’s candidates support AV in their literature? After all, there is no additional cost to including a line in a direct mail or leaflet that is already paid for. While the party can be excused for prioritising victory in Scotland and Wales, campaigning for AV need not be a huge drain on resources or time.

You can read Will’s full post here.

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25 Comments

  • Isn’t the fact that the London referendum was not a national one of some significance?

  • Joe Taylor Condliffe 8th Nov '10 - 10:58pm

    I think it’s quite obvious – Labour are quite aware how how much AV could cost them in terms of seats, and they’re loath to do anything that agrees with us lest it take the edge off their core message of “Lib Dems are evil”.

    I hope I’m wrong, but I strongly suspect that Red Ed will “campaign” for AV in the small print while quietly letting it die – much to the joy of Labour strategists.

  • If LibDems can vote against adding the PR option onto the referendum bill, in order to fully support the “miserable compromise AV, why shouldn’t Labour play politics with ?

    If the referendum result is no, what then for the LibDems campaign for “fair votes”? You will not be able to use it in future GE campaigns. Not for a generation, at least.

  • I hope you aren’t naive enough to be pretending too much surprise at this Mark ?
    I think when we saw Gordon Brown’s miraculous 11th hour conversion to the benefits of AV before the election many of us were all too aware that most of Labour’s attitude to this was cyincal in the extreme.

    This is going to be a pattern repeated all the way up to the AV referendum.

    We know it runs contrary to the unconvincing protestations of Ed Miliband that he supports AV, but we also know that there are enough Labour MPs who loathe any prospect of electoral reform for him to get away with it. It was also unwise to glue AV to boundary changes as this gave Labour yet more cover to distance themselves from AV.
    However, it is refreshing that he is at least being pushed and questioned on it by those few in Labour like Will Straw who actually believe in AV.

    But the bigger question must be addressed.

    We could never rely on Labour to campaign vigorously for AV and I dearly hope Nick and the Leadership weren’t naive enough to have been counting on Labour to do much of the heavy lifting on this for us.
    A strategy must be formed by Nick and the Leadership soon for putting this front and centre with some serious figures being put full time on winning this.
    We aren’t going to win it by spending all our time explaining the intricacies of the AV system so it’s going to have to be a straightforward appeal to the electorate based on the fact that FPTP is clearly unfair and must be replaced.
    And the elephant in the room that will also have to be addressed is the reason why AV has been steadily falling in the polls despite there being next to no campaigning on it. That reason discounts Nick and his Minsters from being an effective voice for the Yes to AV campaign and it also means we must have someone the public trusts and likes informing them why AV is essential and why our current voting system is so unfair.
    I think Charles Kennedy may still be one of the few heavyweight Liberal Democrats capable of this, but whatever the intricacies of the Yes to AV campaign it has to start making ground soon or it will keep drifting further and further out of reach as it is doing just now.

  • @Mark Pack

    Why should Labour, with its not too healthy finances, devote time and resources that will be needed for campaigning in local and national elections? Let’s also not forget that not all Labour candidates or activist would want to campaign for the Yes team.

  • It’s perfectly obvious that the Labour Part wants AV to be defeated, but doesnt want to be tarred with the brush of opposing the progressive movement that would come from openly opposing AV. They want to claim the mantra of the “progressive party”, and that will be shattered if it looks like they are opposing electoral reform. But they will sulk and skulk and vomit forth sophistry to defend their indefensible position. It’s shameful and childish… but what do you expect? Mature politics?

  • I agree with others here that Andy Burnham is simply making an excuse. AV would harm Labour and the Tories and benefit the Lib Dems (assuming, and this is a big assumption at the moment that the Lib Dems can recover the trust they have lost).

    I also think that the bitterness between the two supposedly left of centre parties of late will undoubtedly mean that only those Labour candidates who are true believers will make any effort at all. LDV Bob is spot on Charles Kennedy and perhaps Simon Hughes are crucial to obtaining Labour support. Who else would even be welcome on a shared platform at the moment ? It was also a huge mistake to tie this to boundary changes. If you were likely to lose your seat due to one part of the bill would you support its author’s quest for AV ?

    The real problem is that unless the Lib Dem Ministers start to hold out olive branches to Labour on subjects they agree on (and preferably where friction exists with the Tories), Labour will see no political benefit in avoiding a no vote.

    The real problem I foresee, and I really cannot see why Nick Clegg was so stuborn on the date, is the disparity in turnout that we could see. May’s elections are big news in Scotland and Wales but less so for England. Sorry to those passionate about AV, but it just isn’t yet a big enough issue. If the AV vote has a significantly higher turnout where other elections are taking place it will be portrayed as flawed.

  • The fact is that right now giving the LDs a good kicking will be hugely popular with great swathes of voters regardless of the specific issue, so Labour probably can’t believe their luck at having an opportunity to put the boot in on a policy they were at best lukewarm about anyway. Whining about hypocrisy isn’t going to change that one iota.

  • vince thurnell 9th Nov '10 - 8:18am

    Why are you surprised ?, when Lib Dems and Tories have both intimated that they could recommend their coalition partners as the voters second choice, why the hell would Labour want AV ?. They are fighting the other two main political parties who despite what is claimed about the two parties fighting each other in the next election would rather have their bedfellows win a seat than Labour. Under those circumstances Labour would be mad to campaign for AV.

  • You nasty, nasty voters… you’re not going to support our AV policy and what has our attititude to you got to do with anything….

    One of the things I’m really angry about is that a good chance of getting some reform to the voting system is being put at risk by the behaviour of the Lib Dems since the election – but you have made your bed now and its going to take a huge effort to pull this off now. There’s 23 weeks to get the word over – but every week all I see is some pronouncement or another that as @olly rightly says will give a lot of people who otherwise might have been sympathetic an opportunity to kick back.

  • Chris Stanbra 9th Nov '10 - 8:48am

    Anyone from Labour who is against Fairer Votes is effectively saying they prefer 18 consecutive years of Tory government to electoral reform. Likewise, anyone from the Tories who is against Fairer Votes is saying they prefer 13 consecutive years of Labour government to electoral reform. I prefer electoral reform to either prospect.
    @peebee You’re wrong. What’s ultimately going to make or break the prospect of a “Yes” win in the Fairer Votes referendum is the stance of the Labour Party in the referendum campaign. They should do what their offer to the LDs after the GE implied and what their leader said he supports and campaign for a “Yes” vote.

  • @Chris What’s ultimately going to make or break the prospect of a “Yes” win in the Fairer Votes referendum is the stance of the Labour Party in the referendum campaign…….

    With respect what a lot of people are saying is what is going to make or break a ‘yes’ win is the stance of the Liberal Democrat party at the moment on many issues…

    ….and what you have to get your hand round is that if most people think the result of AV is more years of pandering to the Conservatives by the Lib Dems AV will get booted.. I’ve said before that from the point of view of the fairness of the electoral system this is probably not logical, not sensible or intellectually sound, – but that’s politics!

  • Foregone Conclusion 9th Nov '10 - 10:25am

    In our region, the Greens, Lib Dems and Labour have all agreed to put something in their literature promoting AV and an upcoming townhall meeting on the subject. They don’t seem to think it’ll confuse anyone.

    Frankly, I find the opportunism of our opponents on the AV question ridiculous. For example, Douglas Carswell is in favour of STV, and put forward an STV amendment last month. That would be great, if it weren’t for the fact that he voted against the Lib Dem STV amendment on the original referendum bill! And having been told repeatedly by Labour activists during the election that Labour were passionately in favour of electoral reform, so therefore there was no reason to vote Lib Dem, they seem to have gone awfully cold on the subject all of a sudden. I don’t think that that’s down to great questions of principle, or that it’s ‘all the coalition’s fault’ (some things aren’t, you know!)

  • patricia roche 9th Nov '10 - 10:55am

    The people I have spoken to are so angry they will vote against av – these are not political pundits- these are ordinary people who are angry about the tuition fees and cuts to the vulnerable of society. They think that av means more of the same. Can someone tell me the arguments against this view?

  • I think the Lib Dems need to think really clearly about whether they want any chance of winning this referendum. Everything that has been done on this issue and on the issue of coalition behaviour has led me to believe you want to lose and then blame Labour for that loss.

    Firstly Nick Clegg refused to separate the very contentious constituency sizing element from the bill making it impossible for Labour to support, and setting a tone of Lib Dems blaming Labour for trying to be a hindrance rather than a help to the bill. Labour would have supported a pure AV bill and would then have been in a much stronger position to campaign in favour of AV in a referendum.

    Then there was the Warsi/Huhne press conference. “just the start of a summer of scrutiny” apparently, though it obviously went down like a cup of cold sick as it hasn’t been much repeated (the scrutiny, the blame Labour narrative has continued unabated here and elsewhere).

    Most recently has been the reports of a mooted pact between the Lib Dems and the Tories – essentially trying to cement the coalition rather than allow it to be reshaped according to the democratic will of voters at each election. Pre-election pacts like these are not democratic, but more immediately to the point are disastrous for people of all parties who wanted AV to pass.

    Quite simply, the Tories have made it very, very clear that they will campaign against AV. Why the Lib Dems are allowing this to pass without comment, when they are seemingly expected to openly advocate for policies they were opposed to before the election (cf tuition fees) is up to you. It’s not my place as an outsider to advise how you run relations with your partners.

    However it doesn’t seem to be the Tories you are cross with, It’s Labour – for not doing enough (despite the fact that our Leader has spoken in favour, and we will be putting up senior Labour figures to argue in favour). But the more I read articles like this – and more importantly about post referendum pacts, the less I care that AV passes. I’ve gone from being an advocate to feeling the hostility pushing me further and further towards ambivalence.

    Now it may be that you have decided you can’t win the referendum. Frankly it isn’t looking good. If so, you have probably adopted the right strategy to use this loss as a way of further cementing coalition relations. But if you do want to attempt to win, you need to really think about how to bring Labour back into your tent, rather than p*ssing all over us from inside.

  • No surprise from Andy Burnham, the first Cabinet minister in May to denounce a potential Lib-Lab coalition, following his mates Reid and Blunkett. How those who tried to block Cameron and Osborne, like Gordon Brown, Alan Johnson, Mandy and Douglas Alexander must cringe at the damage this gentleman’s antics do to the centre-left, whilst his campaign for the Labour leadership continues.

  • Notalibdem: Fair attempt at a reasonable post, but it misses the mark. You ask why the Lib Dems arent angry with the Tories for saying they’ll campa9gn against AV? Well, maybe that’s because the Tories are, were and have always been against AV and said they would campaign against it. The Tories didnt suddenly say they were in favour of AV just before the election in order to win Lib Dem votes, and then suddenly change their mind again when they lost the election. The Tories arent inventing excuses like “we wont talk about AV because it will confuse the voters”. The Tories have been honest in saying they oppose it and will try to secure a “No” vote.

    Labour are being duplicitous by saying they support it but wont try to help it because mum is on holiday and the baby is crying and the dog is barking and Eastenders is on in a minute and the phone is ringing and I’ve got a headache and it’s all too difficult… but we support AV really, yes we are a progressive party that believes in voting reform, honest… just not today… OK?

  • ” you want to lose and then blame Labour for that loss.”

    AV might not be PR but it’s only game in town and Nick bet the farm on it.
    Liberal Democrats most certainly do want to win this and finally dumping the grossly unfair FPTP may be the only thing keeping some activists and members going just now. Electoral reform can never be the only policy that defines the Liberal Democrats but right now it is one of the very few clearly that separates us from the Conservatives.

    I also think you mistake short term political spats with principle.
    You either support electoral reform or you don’t.
    Labour’s Leader has said he does and it is hardly iniquitious to hold him to that principle.
    Nick obviously does so anyone who thinks he and his minsters can mouth a few platitudes on AV and then blame a possible loss on Labour are going to be in for a hell of a shock. I might have problems with Nick but even I don’t think he’s that cynical. Nick didn’t become Leader without knowing that electoral reform is an issue that Liberal Democrats care deeply about and with good reason. We don’t expect Nick to perform miracles but we DO expect him to mount an intelligent spirited campaign on an issue that we were winning in the pollls not too long ago and one in which we have the facts on our side.

    The fact that the polls on AV are still slipping is a great cause for concern but we still have a good few months to turn it around. By that time some of the ‘heat’ between Labour and the Liberal Democrats may have subsided and a more united front can be portrayed. Mr Miliband must know on a purely political level that he and his Party gain a significant measure of respect from the public if they are seen to be doing something other than blindly gainsaying every word and policy from the safety of opposition so there will be some measure of co-operation.

    But as I said, I doubt we or the Party Leadership will be relying on Labour support to win this in the midst of fighting the other elections at the same time, and nor should we.

    Electoral reform changes everything.
    It transcends even the cuts and short term squabbles and will transform British politics far more than this one term coalition. We cannot sacrifice everything to achieve it, but when we get this maybe once in a lifetime chance to change it, it has to be siezed and fought for with a passion and determination at least equal to any previous election campaign.

  • I think it is pretty clear what we need to do: distribute loads of leaflets filled with positive quotes in about AV by all the Labour people. There will be plenty from past speeches. Don’t even mention the Lib Dems’ support for the policy.

    Then they will be hoist on their own hypocritical petard and we can piggy back on their rising popularity. Job done.

  • TheContinentalOp 9th Nov '10 - 10:06pm

    The AV referendum will be a miserable failure. The reason? Nick Clegg.

    What’s he got you? A referendum, which when tied to the boundary changes, falls short of the ‘miserable compromise’ once so despised. A referendum which because of the boundary changes actually allows Labour to legitimately argue that this is not the pure voting reform that they had previously supported.

    On top of all that his fronting and vocal support of policies he, just months ago, bitterly opposed has isolated many progressives. Among them are that crucial group who would normally have supported AV but in truth have electoral reform low in their list of priorities.

    Finally, be careful of attempting to exploit Labour’s hypocrisy on this subject. The last thing the Lib Dems want to be doing during this campaign is reminding people of broken pre-election promises. You’ll have your written pledges thrown into your face every day.

    It’s all rather sad. A chance of electoral reform will be list for another generation. Well done, Nick.

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